This Book Is a Planetarium: A Pop-Up Masterpiece Translating the Laws of Physics into Playful and Poetic Tangibility
From light to time, magical hands-on demonstrations making concretely comprehensible the abstract forces and phenomena we experience but cannot ordinarily touch.
By Maria Popova
In her stunning poem “Planetarium,” Adrienne Rich wrote of translating “pulsations into images for the relief of the body and the reconstruction of the mind.” Poetry itself is the work of such mind-reconstructing translation, its images making comprehensible the most ineffable pulsations of thought and feeling. So is science, translating the abstractions of sensation and perception into a relief of concrete truths.
Occupying the embodied space between poetry and science is This Book Is a Planetarium (public library) by Brooklyn-based artist and designer Kelli Anderson — a wondrous pop-up masterpiece that translates the laws of physics, from light to time, into magical hands-on demonstrations that make tangible and concretely comprehensible the abstract forces and phenomena we experience daily but cannot ordinarily touch.
Using nothing but paper and human ingenuity, Anderson — a poet of prototyping and a virtuosic explorer of the wonders hidden in everyday things — demonstrates the principles at the heart of cryptography in a decoder ring, the science of sound in a papercraft musical instrument and a pop-up speaker, the measurement of time based on Earth’s orbital period in a perpetual calendar.
Place a smartphone inside the pop-up planetarium and it will illuminate the annual rotation of constellations in the night sky. Slip a piece of paper into the spiralgraph sleeve and press a pencil down into the gear-wheel to produce the irregular but mathematically predictable line known as an epicycloid.
Accompanying each lyrical pop-up delight is a succinct explanation of the science behind it and why it works.
Here is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the book and the marvelous mind from which it sprang:
This Book Is a Planetarium is immeasurably delightful in its totality, an achievement of elaborate engineering that feels somehow as spare and precise as a poem. Complement it with a very different pop-up masterpiece about the ultimate forces of life by Japanese artist Katsumi Komagata and a vintage pop-up book about the life of Leonardo, whose dual enchantment of art and science Anderson carries on into the twenty-first century.
Published January 8, 2018